Feedback is a Gift

Feedback is a Gift

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about everything. I can’t solve every problem alone and I certainly don’t have all the very best ideas in my mind. The way I have gotten through life is through soliciting feedback, collaborating with others and sharing ideas. Every great idea has come from putting together a variety of good ones together.

It’s easy to give and receive positive feedback which is a great motivator, however, it doesn’t help you get to a better result. By far, the most productive feedback is the constructive feedback which helps improve your deliverable. The fastest way to get to a great result is to put something out there and get real people to share their thoughts on what they love, what doesn’t work well or what may be missing.

How you present your feedback will determine how it is received. There’s no need to be mean or condescending but simply offer alternative ideas or suggestions as additional thoughts or ideas. You could use some of the following to start the conversation:

  • Have you considered…
  • What if you…
  • How about…
  • I wonder if consumers would…
  • This is interesting, how did you come up with…

If you are the one receiving the feedback, the first thing to do is to keep an open mind and listen. No need to get defensive even if they are calling your baby ugly. Seek to understand their ideas and perspectives. Often, I let it sink in for a day or two before I respond. There’s no reason to react immediately. The best response is to thank them for their feedback and that you’ll take some time to thoroughly consider their input.

So, now it’s my turn. I’ve been writing this blog for about a year and I would love to get some feedback. Please email me at monishalongacre@productivity101.biz and let me know your thoughts about this post, the blog, my app or just about anything else that’s on your mind. Let me know about your productivity challenges or tips and tricks. Anything you share will help me get a better understanding of my audience. So, please give me this gift.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are writing a report or memo and you just keep reviewing it and re-writing portions, ask someone else to proofread and edit it. It’s putting yourself out there, but you will get to a better result much faster. Stuck on solving a problem? Gather a few people with different experiences or perspectives and hold a brainstorming session. You’ll be amazed at the number of ideas you can gather in less than an hour.

The First Thing Everyday

The First Thing Everyday

I have always made my bed first thing in the morning. I don’t think about it. I just do it and have done so every single day for years. It’s just a natural part of my daily routine. I don’t see it as a chore or a waste of time, but a great way to start the day on a positive note by getting something simple done. I even make my half of the bed if my husband is still sleeping in it.

However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot convince my kids to make their beds, ever! They don’t see any value in it. To them, making the bed is just a waste of time since they’ll get back in it and it’ll just get messed up again. So, why bother?

Well, research reported in Psychology Today shows that “bed makers are happier and more successful than those who don’t.” In 2014, Naval SEAL Admiral McRaven included the following remarks in his commencement address at The University of Texas at Austin:

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

In my completely informal, unscientific Facebook survey, 66% of my Facebook friends make their beds every morning for exactly these reason. It makes them feel good and gets their day started in the right direction. Many also commented on how it feels good to end the day getting into a made bed.

To make it easier to make your bed each day, you can get rid of the extra pillows and cushions, remove the middle flat sheet or just use a duvet and simply pull it up. Believe it or not there’s now a SMARTduvet that comes with a phone app that will automatically make the bed for you. Not sure that this counts as making your bed, but maybe I should order it for my kids since they would simply push a “Make Bed” button on their smartphone to get their day started on the right foot.

TRY THIS OUT: If you don’t normally make your bed, try it for a few days in a row and see how it impacts your day and how you feel. If you do normally make your bed, try not to for a few days, does it even make a difference?

The Biggest Productivity Problem

The Biggest Productivity Problem

We all do it. We are all guilty no matter how good our intentions. And this one single thing has the biggest negative impact to our productivity every single day. So, what is it?

Not following through or following up.

It’s so easy to say, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Or, “Let’s meet for lunch.” Sometimes we say, “I’ll send you that article as soon as I get back to my desk.”  Or, “I’ll have that report done by the end of the week.” These promises easily stream from our mouths and then quickly vanish into the air. However, the recipient takes them and holds on to them setting an expectation in their minds.

So, why don’t we follow through on the commitments we make?

First, we just simply forget what we said.

Our brains are full, our bodies are active and our days are busy and sometimes these little promises just fall by the wayside. The smartest thing to do to ensure that you follow up is to write it down. As soon as you make a commitment, no matter how big or small, add it to your to-do list. That way it’ll serve as a little reminder whenever you check your lists.

Second, we don’t mean it.

Too often we just say things, to say things. Some of these statements have become a way of ending a conversation or just a figure of speech. Some of my favorites are:

 “See you tomorrow.” (Well, will you really?)

“Let’s get together.” (Then, set a date and time)

“I’ll be right there.” (Like, now or in 30 mins?)

“I’m almost done.” (Again, tell me how much longer)

Third, we overestimate our ability to deliver.

Sometimes we have all good intentions but we’re unable to keep a commitment. The report took longer than expected. Something may have come up preventing you from finishing it or it just didn’t get done. As soon as you know that you aren’t going to be able to meet a stated commitment, let that person know and re-set their expectations so they can then adjust accordingly. Don’t wait for the day to come and go and for them to have to reach back out to you to find out what’s going on.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you hear yourself making a commitment, stop, write it down and then come up with a plan to make sure you meet that expectation. Next time someone has to follow up with you on a commitment you made, think through how it got dropped and determine how you can close that gap the next time.

The Two Minute Rule

The Two Minute Rule

This rule is so simple in theory but harder to put into practice. Yet, if you can get in the habit of doing it, I promise you will save yourself so much time. The concept was first introduced by David Allen in “Getting Things Done” and many productivity experts and gurus continue to promote it including Daniel Pink in a recent Pinkcast episode.

Here’s how it works:  If you can complete a task in less than two minutes, you should just do it. Don’t put it off, don’t try to remember to do it later, don’t even write it down. Just do it and get it done. See, very simple.

So, how do you actually make that happen? Like I said, it’s much easier said than done but here are some examples that might help. When you bring in the mail, stand by the recycling bin and go through it. Immediately throw out any junk mail or flyers. Sort the bills into a pile to batch pay later. File anything that you might need to keep or reference later. Create a “follow up” pile for anything left over. You will never again have piles of mail laying around your house.

Similarly, you can use rule this for going through your email. This methodology called Inbox Zero is rooted in the same principle. Set aside time specific times throughout your day to check email and then follow these steps:

    1. Delete junk immediately.
    2. Archive or file emails that you may need to keep and refer to later.
    3. Forward emails that can be delegated.
    4. If a response or action can be done in under two minutes, just do it.
    5. The rest require further action and should be managed as tasks.

Some other opportunities to save time including putting your clothes away when you change, washing your dishes as soon as you finish eating, making your bed as soon as you get up in the morning. Imagine never having to find and devote time to doing a whole pile of dishes or cleaning up your room or closet. You also won’t ever have to spend time looking for your favorite sweater.

You can also use this rule for positive results. Take two minutes to call your Mom, text a friend or thank someone who did something nice for you. These are the types of things we think about doing but never get around to. How often do you say, “I was going to call you, but I’ve been so busy”? Instead of putting it off, just do it as soon as you think of it. Not only does it get done, but you feel good and so does the recipient of your kind thought.

TRY THIS OUT: As you go through the rest of your day, think critically about tasks that you need to do and how long they will take. Challenge yourself to immediately tackle anything that can be completed in less than two minutes. At the end of the day, assess how it went and how you feel. Did you get more done?

Your Life in Lists

Your Life in Lists

Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and author, disclosed on his blog that the secret to success is to “write it down.” He shares, “Ever since I was a child I have made lists of all kinds, including short-term tasks, long-term goals and resolutions. It’s how I make sense of the world, bring order to the ideas in my head, and start turning them into action.”

I believe him. I have lists and lists for everything. It’s how I was able to keep everything in order and stay on top of everything for many years. The real key to success isn’t just about writing it down but also how you organize and manage your lists. Here are some ideas:

Shopping Lists

Keep lists of everything you need to buy. I organize my lists by store so when I’m in that store, I pull up my list and don’t forget to buy anything. A great app for this is AnyList which allows you to share your shopping lists.

Work Lists

If you are an individual contributor working on many projects, organize your lists by project. Include everything from tasks, to open questions and items you need to follow up on. If you are a manager, organize your lists by employee. Again, include all open items. I used a notebook that I always kept with me so I could write things down as soon as they came up.

Task Lists

The key here is to only have one to-do list and make sure you always have it with you. Most people I talk to have lists in all different places, their work notebook, their phone, Post-It Notes and in their head. When it comes down to it, items get forgotten or fall through the cracks. Most people always have their phones with them so I use the task management app, priorigami: the art of productivity, to store all my to-dos in one place.

Entertainment Lists

I keep lists of books I want to read, shows I want to watch, movies I want to see, restaurants I want to try, places I want to visit and people I want to catch up with so whenever I have some free time, I quickly scan through my lists and find something to do. I keep these in the Notes section of my phone so I can quickly access them.

Done Lists

I am a strong believer in documenting completed tasks and accomplishments because it makes you feel good and motivates you to do more. I have kept a Done list in various forms for over 20 years.

If you want to learn more about how lists can help you become more productive, check out Paula Rizzo’s book, Listful Thinking. It’s an easy read. If you want to have some fun with lists, try Listography: Your Life in Lists which is a series of journals of lists.

TRY THIS OUT: What lists do you currently maintain? Which work for you and which ones don’t? What lists might be helpful for you to have? What’s the best format for your list and where should you keep it to make sure it’s readily available when needed.

Make Your 2017 Resolution a Reality

Make Your 2017 Resolution a Reality

We spend so much time worrying about all the little things that need our attention and need to get done. The start of a new year is a great time to think about the big picture. Take some time now to think about what over-arching thing would you like to improve, change or accomplish this year. Be sure to only pick one thing. Any more than one is too much.

Think of it as coming up with your personal theme for the year. One year, I wanted to focus on embracing change. Another year I decided to work on becoming a better listener. You may want to become more productive or patient or achieve a specific goal like writing a book or launching a new product. Perhaps you want to lose weight or eat healthier, save money or read more. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do so long as it’s one thing and it is a SMART goal that is specific and measurable.

That’s the starting point and for many, unfortunately that’s also often the end of it as well. Once you have selected a theme, then what? You get busy, people demand your attention, you get distracted by other things and before you know it, several months have passed by. Sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to end at the beginning. Once you have selected your annual theme, devote some time to thinking about the specific things you will do to achieve that goal or make that change. Write down distinct, measurable tasks that can be done in a set amount of time. Then, take that list and prioritize it. Start by selecting the top three first, knowing that you can always go back and pick a few more. You can use a task management app like priorigami: the art of productivity to help you track and prioritize your tasks.

When you have identified your top three priority tasks, schedule time on your calendar to get them done. This piece is critical. The only sure-fire way to get something done is to schedule it. And just to be safe, schedule a backup time as well in case something comes up preventing you from tackling it the first time.

Just as important as completing tasks, is documenting your progress. One easy and reliable way to track your progress is by keeping a Done list. It will feel good and it’s a good motivator to visually see what you have accomplished. Also, hopefully you’ll be seeing real world benefits as well.

TRY THIS OUT: What’s your personal theme for 2017? What are some specific tasks that you can do to achieve your goal? Prioritize three of them and schedule time on your calendar to get them done this month.

5 Productivity Pitfalls

5 Productivity Pitfalls

At the start of a new year, a new job or a new project, we set clear goals, develop a workable plan and we are motivated, but then what happens? Somewhere along the way, we inevitably get derailed and find ourselves without clear direction, off our plan or distracted by other things that are clamoring for our time and attention.

Here are five pitfalls that can directly impact your productivity. First, be aware of them and then learn how to steer clear of them.

1. Digital Distractions

The number one deterrent to your productivity is the amount of time you spend checking your email and browsing social media or playing games. Turn off all your notifications and alerts and set aside specific periods of time each day for these activities. Better yet, schedule time for these digital distractions as your reward for completing a very important task or project.

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2. Meetings

We spend 35-50% of our working time in meetings and most of them are a total waste of time. Before blindly accepting meeting invites, think critically about whether attending the meeting is a good use of your time. If you must attend or hold a meeting, make the most of the time by following these guidelines for conducting effective meetings. Also, Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting is another great resource.

3. Procrastinating

There’s always that one task that lingers on your to-do list and you will do a million other things instead of tackling it. Consider why you are avoiding it.  Is it not that important? Is it too daunting? Or, are you just not motivated? Understanding the importance of why you should do the task will help you find the motivation to attack the task head on. I also find that rewarding myself with something fun once the task is complete is another good motivator.

4. Multi-Tasking

This is my biggest weakness. When we have too much to do we just keep trying to do it all and sometimes all at once. However, the research and science has proven that it’s technically impossible for us to truly multi-task and the costs of constantly switching between tasks has such an impact that it’s just not worth doing. Instead schedule focused time to work on the most important things you need to get done.

5. Your Phone

Research shows that we are 26% more productive without our smartphones. On average we reach for our phones more than 85 times a day! Stop letting your phones control your time and your habits and start using it to increase your productivity instead of negatively impacting it. When you need to focus, try putting your phone in a drawer or in another room. Just try it and see what happens.

TRY THIS OUT: What are the pitfalls that are impacting your productivity? What are three things you can do to eliminate or avoid those pitfalls. How are you going to hold yourself accountable to steering clear of those pitfalls?

 

Five Habits of Highly Productive People

Five Habits of Highly Productive People

Last summer when I was heads down working my corporate job, one of my male colleagues stopped me one day and asked, “How do you do it?  How do you get it all done?” We set up some time and I started talking through how I managed my life – all of it, from work, to home to school and sports and throw on a few non-profit Boards.

What I found through our conversation was that over the past 25 years in the working world trying to juggle life, I had developed a methodology for getting things done. This system includes lots of little tips and tricks that I’m sharing with you on my blog, but in the bigger picture it all comes down to perfecting and instituting these five habits.

  1. Clearly Know Your Goals

If you ask productive people about their goals, they will be able to rattle them off to you without any hesitation. They know what they want and they can clearly articulate what they are trying to achieve. Also make sure you periodically review your goals and adjust if needed because things do change.

  1. Break Down Goals into Achievable Tasks

You cannot achieve your goals without a plan. To build a realistic plan, break down your goals into tasks that you can manage and use to measure progress. For example, if your goal is to plan a party, start with the first few steps: create the invitation, generate the guest list, plan the menu, etc.

  1. Keep a Prioritized To-Do List

Store all your tasks in one central place like a simple task management app like priorigami. By having a home for all your tasks, you don’t have to depend on your brain to remember things or check several different places to figure out what you need to do next. This also makes it easy to review your tasks and select your top three daily priorities.

  1. Schedule Focused Time to Complete Tasks

Once you have identified your top three tasks, look at your calendar and block calendar time to get them done around other scheduled events, appointments and meetings. This step will ensure you dedicate focused time to completing your prioritized tasks. If something urgent arises, as if often does, then adjust your priorities and then reschedule your time to accommodate the disruption.

  1. Reward Yourself

To help you stay motivated and focused when you are working on a task, reward yourself upon completing a task. Perhaps it’s 15 minutes on social media or talking to a friend or a night out for dinner. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you enjoy and look forward to it. This coupled with the self-satisfaction of completing your tasks and getting one step closer to your ultimate goals will keep you going.

TRY THIS OUT: What are your top three goals right now? If you can’t clearly answer that question, then start there. If you can, break down your goals into tasks and select the top three to start on tomorrow. Schedule time in your calendar to complete those three tasks, then take it from there.

So Many Inboxes, So Much Time

So Many Inboxes, So Much Time

My phone buzzes. My instinct is to instantly grab it to see what someone needs. But wait, what do I check first? There are just so many incoming messages coming into so many different inboxes. So, how do we keep up? It’s no wonder we waste so much time checking and responding to messages without realizing how ineffectively we are using these tools to actually communicate.

So, back to my phone. I read a few text messages and respond to one. Move on to email. I have my personal email box and my business one. Too many messages. I’ll come back to that later. I have 10 messages on my Slack channel, something must be going on. My LinkedIn app is showing a new unread message so I go there next to see who might want to connect. Then Facebook Messenger is indicating a few more incoming messages. While I’m here, I might as well check to see if I have any Twitter Likes, Retweets and DMs and Instagram Likes and DMs as well.

An hour later, what have I actually accomplished? Absolutely nothing. And quite honestly I’m not sure what I’ve learned and what I should do next. It’s like flipping through 200 channels without watching a thing.

Here are some communication best practices you might want to consider before sending your next message:

TEXT MESSAGES

 Unless you’re communicating with close friends or family, reserve texting for short, urgent messages that can be addressed with a quick, short response back. Try to avoid sending group text messages since every response goes to all recipients. Don’t use text messages to connect with someone for the first time.

EMAIL

Use email for most communications to share information, coordinate meetings and events or collaborate on ideas. Email is also great for communicating with groups of people. Use email if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. This way your message will also serve as a reminder to them.

FACEBOOK

Facebook is a personal, social network and should be used to communicate primarily with friends and family. Be thoughtful about reaching out to co-workers, bosses or employees since they may not be comfortable connecting on a personal level. Also, try to avoid pushing your products or services too aggressively.

LINKEDIN

Think of LinkedIn as your extended professional network. This is where you can connect comfortably with work associates and partners. Be sure to limit posts, messages and updates to professional topics and articles.

TWITTER

Limit Twitter use to sharing breaking news, articles and updates. Sports scores, headlines, quotes and updates with immediate relevance all make the most sense for Twitter.

INSTAGRAM

People look at Instagram, they don’t read it. The photo or image you post should be the message and should stand alone. People shouldn’t have to read the caption and comments to understand the message.

Most importantly, don’t use send out the same message through all of these channels. Pick the most appropriate communication channel for your message and send it!

Gotta go.  My phone just buzzed. It must be something urgent.

TRY THIS OUT: Try to set aside a few times a day to check your various inboxes during breaks in between work times and meetings. Also, it really helps to turn off all of your notifications, alerts and badges. Before you shoot off your next message, think about the list of best practices above and make sure you’re using the best channel for the message.

The Three List Assessment

The Three List Assessment

The leaves are changing colors. Football is being played across the country. Signs of the upcoming holiday season are popping up everywhere and then you suddenly realize that there are only a few weeks left in the year. It’s the perfect time to assess progress against your personal resolutions and business performance goals.

What did you set out to do this year? How are you faring against those goals? Do you even remember them? At the end of the year, many employers ask you to assess your own performance as an input to year-end reviews which may impact bonuses or salary increases. Take the time NOW to see how you’ve done so far and what you can do over the next two months to make sure you hit all of your goals.

First, figure out where you stand against your goals. Then, use this easy exercise to make any needed adjustments: simply identify the top three things you should STOP, START or CONTINUE doing. Periodically I use this three list methodology to assess progress against an individual deliverable, team project or a personal goal.

STOP

Start here because this is the hardest but most critical piece. Think about which activities take up a lot of time but are not helping you achieve your goals. Consider time spent in meetings, writing reports, responding to emails or time spent with a particularly needy colleague. You will quickly realize many of these can be eliminated, delayed or delegated. Pick three of these that you can stop doing without impacting your goals.

START

With the time you have just freed up, what three things can you start doing that will help you achieve your goals. Did you resolve to exercise more, try skipping a meeting a week and get outside and walk during that time. Instead of responding to every email, is there some research or other deep work that you can focus on doing instead? Come up with three solid tasks that will get you closer to achieving your goals and prioritize them over everything else for the next two months.

CONTINUE

What have you been doing that has been successful in helping you achieve your goals. Make sure you identify three productive activities and keep doing them. Being aware of these will help you to continue to make time and prioritize these activities. You may even think of ways to increase or improve these tasks.

TRY THIS OUT: How have you done achieving your resolutions or goals?  If you’ve been keeping a Done list, this will be easy to assess. Once you understand the gap and know what is left to do, schedule an hour this week to create your STOP, START and CONTINUE LISTS. Once you have created these lists, make sure you adjust your calendar to eliminate the things you are going to STOP and schedule in the ones you are going to START.